Tag Archives | Brain

How The Human Brain Creates Consciousness

optimized_brainMichael Graziano, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University and author of Consciousness and the Social Brain, thinks neuroscience has discovered how consciousness comes about. He explains at Aeon:

Scientific talks can get a little dry, so I try to mix it up. I take out my giant hairy orangutan puppet, do some ventriloquism and quickly become entangled in an argument. I’ll be explaining my theory about how the brain — a biological machine — generates consciousness. Kevin, the orangutan, starts heckling me. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t have a brain. But I’m still conscious. What does that do to your theory?’

Kevin is the perfect introduction. Intellectually, nobody is fooled: we all know that there’s nothing inside. But everyone in the audience experiences an illusion of sentience emanating from his hairy head. The effect is automatic: being social animals, we project awareness onto the puppet. Indeed, part of the fun of ventriloquism isexperiencing the illusion while knowing, on an intellectual level, that it isn’t real.

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Two Lectures and One Interview: Eric R. Kandel on learning, memory, and individuality; Elon Musk on the Future of Energy and Transport; and Ladar Levison on Lavabit

via chycho

Two lectures and one interview well worth the watch:


I. Eric R. Kandel: The Molecular Biology of Memory Storage and the Biological Basis of Individuality
In my opinion and those of many others, the root cause of our society’s ills is how we deal with education, and the following lecture by Eric Kandel emphasizes this point. The argument is made that evolving, learning, memory; our humanity should be looked upon in a holistic manner. That our genes do not necessarily decide who we become; our culture, our methods of learning and teaching, our setting is what decides our individuality, and we, in large part, are in control of our future.


II. Elon Musk: the Future of Energy & Transport
Tesla Motors and Elon Musk have been all the rage lately, and rightfully so considering Tesla just blew away their quarterly earnings and Musk just revealed details of Hyperloop (pdf), a “hypothetical mode of high-speed transportation” which he has proposed.… Read the rest

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Human Cells Added To Their Brains Make Mice Smarter

human cells

Once someone lets them loose into a sewer and they breed freely, we’re in trouble. Scientific American writes:

In spring a band of brainy rodents made headlines for zipping through mazes with savvy navigation and mastering memory tricks. Scientists credited the impressive intellectual feats to human cells transplanted into their brains shortly after birth.

The mice benefited from human stem cells called glial progenitors, immature cells poised to become astrocytes and other glia cells, the supposed support cells of the brain.

Studies since then have revealed how extensively astrocytes interact with neurons, even coordinating their activity in some cases.

Our astrocytes are enormous compared with the astrocytes of other animals—20 times larger than rodent astrocytes—and they make contact with millions of neurons apiece. Neurons, on the other hand, are nearly identical in all mammals, from rodents to great apes like us. Such clues suggest astrocytes could be evolutionary contributors to our outsized intellect.

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Pim Van Lommel On Near Death Experiences And Non-Local Consciousness

I remain somewhat skeptical that near death experiences (NDE) involve a different plane of perception, but Pim van Lommel is far closer to convincing me than Proof of Heaven. Inspired by the transformative encounters described by his patients, the Dutch cardiologist has interviewed hundreds of people who have had NDEs and argues that they are “real”, cannot be dismissed as tricks of memory or the oxygen-deprived mind, and are suggestive of consciousness existing outside of the brain:

I grew up in an academic environment in which i had been taught that there was a reductionist and literalist explanation for everything, that it was obvious that consciousness was a product of a functioning brain. But the phenomenon of near death experiences raised a number of fundamental questions. I was unable to accept most of the answers to these questions because they seemed incomplete, incorrect, or unfounded.

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Meditation: Effects on Emotion Shown to Persist

via Psych Central Meditation 2

Meditation affects a person’s brain function long after the act of meditation is over, according to new research.

“This is the first time meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.

“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”

The researchers began the study with the hypothesis that meditation can help control emotional responses.

During meditation, a part of the brain called the amygdala (known for the processing of emotional stimuli) showed decreased activity. However, when the participants were shown images of other people that were either good, bad, or neutral for a practice known as “compassion meditation,” the amygdala was exceptionally responsive.

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What It’s Like To Live As A Dead Person

cotard's syndrome

From New Scientist, what it’s like to live with the constant, crushing realization that you are dead:

Nine years ago, Graham woke up and discovered he was dead. He was in the grip of Cotard’s syndrome. People with this rare condition believe that they, or parts of their body, no longer exist.

For Graham, it was his brain that was dead, and he believed that he had killed it. Suffering from severe depression, he had tried to commit suicide by taking an electrical appliance with him into the bath.

“When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren’t going to do me any good ’cause my brain was dead. I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn’t need to eat, or speak, or do anything…everything was meaningless.”

Neurologist Adam Zeman said, “He felt he was in a limbo state caught between life and death.”

Some people with Cotard’s have reportedly died of starvation, believing they no longer needed to eat.

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The Threat And Promise Of Humans With Technologically-Boosted Superintelligence

radically amplified human intelligence

Via Sentient Developments, futurist and Singularity Summit co-organizer Michael Anissimov on radically amplified human intelligence (IA) as potentially even more powerful, and dangerous, than artificially intelligent machines:

The real objective of IA is to create “super-Einsteins”, persons qualitatively smarter than any human being that has ever lived. There will be a number of steps on the way there.

The first step will be to create a direct neural link to information. Think of it as a “telepathic Google.”

The next step will be to develop brain-computer interfaces that augment the visual cortex, the best-understood part of the brain. This would boost our spatial visualization and manipulation capabilities. Imagine being able to imagine a complex blueprint in high detail, or to learn new blueprints quickly.

The third step involves the genuine augmentation of pre-frontal cortex. This is the Holy Grail of IA research — enhancing the way we combine perceptual data to form concepts.

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Is Early-Age Reading Developmentally Appropriate?

Activity_at_the_library6Marsha Lucas asks if introducing children to reading at an early age developmentally appropriate.

via Rewire Your Brain For Love:

Louise Bates Ames, PhD, a superstar in child development and the director of research at the world-renowned Gesell Institute of Child Development, stated that “a delay in reading instruction would be a preventative measure in avoiding nearly all reading failure.” Leapfrogging necessary cognitive developmental skills — and asking a young brain to do tasks for which it isn’t truly ready — is asking for trouble with learning.

The brains of young children aren’t yet developed enough to read without it costing them in the organization and “wiring” of their brain. The areas involved in language and reading aren’t fully online — and aren’t connected — until age seven or eight. If we’re teaching children to do tasks which their brains are not yet developed to do via the “normal” (and most efficient) pathways, the brain will stumble upon other, less efficient ways to accomplish the tasks — which lays down wiring in some funky ways — and can lead to later learning disabilities, including visual-processing deficits.

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Researchers Successfully Use Subjects’ Brain Waves As Personal Identifiers

brain wavesIn coming years, allowing a machine to momentarily observe your mental activity may be the key to open your email account or front door. Via Dark Reading:

It sounds like something straight out of science fiction: brainwaves taking the place of passwords in the name of authentication. A new study by researchers from the U.C. Berkeley School of Information examined the brainwave signals of individuals performing specific actions to see whether they can be consistently matched to the right individual.

Participants were asked to imagine performing a repetitive motion from a sport of their choice, singing a song, watching a series of on-screen images and silently counting the objects, or choose their own thought and focus on it for 10 seconds.

To measure the subjects’ brainwaves, the team used the NeuroSky Mindset, a Bluetooth headset that records Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. In the end, the team was able to match the brainwave signals with 99 percent accuracy.

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Panting For Breath On A Virtual Shore

adbusters_106_virtualshores_S

Our brains are being reprogrammed — literally. And not for the better, but droolingly bad.

A “detriment to cognition, concentration, contemplation and psychological health,” causing “structural abnormalities in gray matter” to the tune of a “fifteen percent shrinkage in the area of the brain that controls speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory, and other information.”

That´s what research in neuroscience is showing about all of the pervasive technologies — video games, cell phones, televisions, etc — so many of us spend numerous hours hyper-connected to all day long.

And, “This shrinkage is cumulative: The more time online, the more grey matter shrivels.”

“New studies are showing that internet and social media use contribute to or instigate even bigger mental breakdowns: split-personality disorder, delusional and paranoid thought, suicidal thinking, even psychosis . . . psychosis, that is defined as, a loss of what is real.”

These technologies, which we have only really had so dramatically present in our lives for the last five years, are contributing greatly to the mental breakdown of millions of people.… Read the rest

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